Swinney under fire over special needs funding

Teacher tells John Swinney his pledge of £15 million for more support workers for schools is ‘like putting an Elastoplast on a broken leg’

Emma Seith

Swinney under fire over special needs funding

The Scottish education secretary has heard passionate pleas from teachers calling for more money for special needs pupils who they say are being failed because schools do not have the resources to support them.

The teachers told John Swinney his promise to recruit an extra 1000 school support staff, while welcome, would have little impact unless it was coupled with a commitment to increase additional support needs (ASN) teacher numbers.

One teacher, Eddie Burns, who addressed Mr Swinney at the Scottish Learning Festival (SLF) in Glasgow yesterday said that the promise was “like putting an Elastoplast on a broken leg”.

Background: 1,000 more support staff announced for Scottish schools

The figures: Additional support needs: what the stats show

Related: Concerns raised over pupils with additional support needs

Mr Burns, who is the EIS teaching union secretary for South Lanarkshire, said: “One the biggest elephants in the room is the under-resourcing of ASN and how that is impacting on teachers and learners within schools. Obviously we welcome the announcement of 1000 support staff but it’s like putting an Elastoplast on a broken leg.”

Sheila Waddell, a special needs teacher in Glasgow, said that between 2012 and 2018 the number of children with additional support needs had risen, but the number of ASN teachers had plummeted.

ASN teacher numbers dropped by over 500 between 2012 and 2017, from 3,248 to just 2,733. Meanwhile, the number of pupils with ASNs rose by over 65,000, from 118,034 to 183,491.

She asked John Swinney – in a question after his keynote address to the SLF – if there were any plans for “extra funding to provide more ASN teachers, as opposed to pupil support assistants”.

If there were plans for more teachers she called for the money to be ring-fenced so that it could not be “diverted” by local authorities to other priorities. She said English as an additional language (EAL) services had been decimated when ring-fencing was removed.

In response, Mr Swinney said he had announced the £15 million for ASN support workers to try and put in place some resources to address the issues that had been raised about local authorities’ capacity to cope with pupils’ additional support needs.

He added that Angela Morgan – the former chief executive of the youth support charity, Includem – had been asked by the government to lead a review of additional support needs in education. The review was not about questioning the policy of mainstreaming, he said, but about identifying the challenges in implementing the policy.

Mr Swinney said as a result of that review “there may be issues that I have to address about future provision”. It is anticipated the review will report in the spring.

He said: “The announcement by the government of the extra investment in ASN is us recognising that challenge exists and I’m pleased we were able to find those resources. Of course on all these questions folk would like more resources and I hear that and we will continue to identify if there is more resource we can put in - and I would encourage our local authority partners to prioritise this into the bargain.”

Tes Scotland asked Mr Swinney how he would guarantee the money for additional support workers in school was spent as intended.

He said the Scottish government was in discussion with councils but that it would “insist” the money was spent on support workers.

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Emma Seith

Emma Seith

Emma Seith is a reporter for TES Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Emma_Seith

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